Saturday, October 31, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
One afternoon, soon after all of the college deadlines had passed, I remember sitting in our family room with my high school boyfriend. We were watching a brand new television show, and I was sitting on the carpeted floor. Ken came in and scoffed at the show. "What are you watching?!?" he asked with annoyance after a few seconds. "It's called The Oprah Winfrey Show," I told him. (Maybe I did know a thing or two back then after all!) He changed the subject and asked me how the college application and scholarship process was going. I told him the schools that had made the cut. He looked dismayed. "What about Swarthmore?" he asked. Now, I really never had any true intention of applying to Swarthmore and setting myself up for a rejection letter. Didn't he have any idea how smart he was? I would never be that smart. I told him what the deal breaker had been. "Swarthmore had three essay questions, Ken. Hard essay questions." Never mind that writing was my forte and that I wanted to be an English major. "I would have never gotten accepted to Swarthmore," I continued convincingly. I know all these years later that there was no chance of me ever being accepted there.
But Ken made a face. Then he said something I will never forget for the rest of my life. A sentence that has haunted me for all of these years after. "Oh....well, I spent a half hour in the admissions office telling them all the reasons why they should accept you." I can barely even type that. It hurts me to the core now just like it did then. And I doubt he would have ever told me had I actually applied.
I still know I wouldn't have been accepted. But why didn't I just complete the darn application? Why couldn't I have just done it for him? I had no idea that he really wanted me to go there and share his small college campus with him until then. What if I had been miraculously accepted and I could have been there for him when he needed me the most? What if...what if...what if....
I only got to visit my brother at Swarthmore a few times. My junior and senior years of high school were chock-full of commitments every single weekend for band, show choir, and private flute and vocal lessons, not to mention all of my academic commitments and what was left for my social calendar. But I will never forget the image that greeted me when I arrived at Ken's dorm room. This picture -- blown up -- was on his door for all to see:
Ken and Kristin, 1973
He never explained to me why that picture was taped to his door. But it made me proud. And when I think back to the memories I have of Ken, the Swarthmore application and this photo often come to mind as proof of how much my big brother cared. He wasn't especially fond of showing his emotions, but these two memories are reminders to me when I need them. While our relationship was often typical of a brother and sister who lived to agitate one another, I also have a few gems like these to remember what a gift he was to me and my family.
So, happy birthday, Ken. Thanks for believing in me when I didn't believe in myself, and thanks for being almost as proud to be my big brother as I was to be your little sister.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
My name is Neil Cockerill, and I am proud to say that I knew Ken very well. I had the very unique pleasure of being Ken’s roommate for our freshman year at Swarthmore. Imagine what you learn about someone sharing a 15’x20’ space for nine months. He was my first friend at college, and we remained friends until his unfortunate and devastating departure.
Suffice it to say that our pairing as roommates was a blessing for me, and sometimes a curse for poor Ken. You see, Ken had been at school roughly two weeks prior to freshman orientation to attend pre-season football practices. I arrived at school for the first time in the early afternoon and unloaded my things before he returned from practice. By the time he came back, he was greeted with an entirely transformed room; that is, three guitars, and an entire Marshall Stack amplifier system (occupying nearly 25% of the room), and large posters plastering the walls honoring the great guitars players of the time (think Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, etc.). And a half-sized basketball hoop with break-away rim. You should have seen his face. Priceless.
But within a few minutes we were chatting it up, talking about music, sports, and where we came from. As it turns out, we grew up relatively close geographically, as I was from Chestertown, MD. I had been to Caesar Rodney many times as a competing wrestler. I could tell immediately that Ken was very intelligent and more mature than most his age. I knew I could learn a lot from him, and I did.
Music was one of the topics we discussed daily. Ken was the biggest Stones fan I ever met, and I have yet to meet anyone in my life that compares. To this day I think of Ken every time I hear the Stones. I could almost predict the tunes that would be blasting whenever I came back to the room. If it wasn’t “Gimme Shelter,” it was “Symphony for the Devil” or “Paint it Black.” Maybe even “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Most of the time he was belting out the lyrics without an ounce of self-consciousness. For the record, Ken was not a good vocalist. But he outweighed me by 75 pounds, so I let him sing to his heart’s content. Occasionally I’d come home to the Grateful Dead, though during his freshman year he wasn’t the Deadhead he was to become by his junior year. Meanwhile, he had to endure the likes of Rush and Metallica when I overtook the radio. But he never complained. In fact, I think we introduced each other to some new styles and learned to appreciate each other’s tastes. Ken was nothing if not open-minded.
Over that first year, we became good friends and had plenty of laughs. I distinctly remember a time when we were having one of our late night, slightly inebriated games of mini-basketball in the dorm room. In an effort to close out a tightly contested game of H-O-R-S-E, Ken ran across the room and propelled himself with a leap off the bed for what should have been an earth-shattering dunk. Instead, a slight miscalculation sent him well past the intended target, and culminated with a pseudo-swan-dive on his desk. Nothing survived impact and Ken’s head was left wedged between the desk, lamp and window sill. Post crash, I heard only his muffled, groaned concession……..“Game Over.” I laughed for a week. Ken laughed for two.
We had been placed on the 2nd floor of Willets dormitory, which quickly became the party hall of the entire campus. Call it luck (or at times unlucky if you were actually trying to get some work done). Several nights a week there were kegs in the hall, which brought a wide diversity of students from the campus population. What amazed me about Ken was that he could assimilate himself into any crowd, be it athletes, deadheads, nerds, etc. He was kind, funny and genuine. You always knew where you stood with Ken. While he was never one to dominate the conversation, when he spoke, he was insightful and witty beyond description.
I hope you and the rest of the Spengler family know how important Ken was to the friends’ lives he enriched. It is an honor to call him my friend, and I am a better person for having known him. This world was a much better place with him in it.
Take care and I will always remember Ken.
I just saw the announcement in the Swarthmore Bulletin, and I quickly read the posts by other Swatties. I was struck by the fact that others mentioned the directness and solidness of Ken that made him seem more mature than most of us. Ken was right down the hall from me during his freshman (my sophomore) year. He put up with Neil and his Marshall amp and all sorts of silliness that the room could barely contain (including a mini basketball hoop). I remember him reprimanding me once after I had (once again) hung around until someone asked me if I wanted the last slice of pizza, when I hadn't put any money in.
I sometimes had trouble sorting out priorities, emotions and the games people played, but he always seemed to cut right through it. He would stop me in the midst of my over-analysis with a direct question that clearly led to only one, common sense conclusion. He was always right on in assessing my state of mind. I was amazed with how quickly a group of great people from wide-ranging backgrounds coalesced around him. There was so much energy bristling everywhere -- academics, parties, sports, the social scene -- and he was crucial to maintaining the center for a lot of us. He didn't push himself into that role, but he kind of filled in the spaces to transform the conversation or the flow of activity. Without intending to hold sway, he regularly had the last word, and many of us really enjoyed watching that happen. It was clear to me that the amount of hot air and B.S. was always dramatically higher without Ken's presence. (I still remember him screwing up his face & saying, "Wa-a-h" when he had heard (or been guilty of) too much whining.
I really enjoyed exploring the campus with Ken -- walking across the railroad trestle, taking a short cut to the field house, or finding an underappreciated nook of the campus to enjoy a cold Yuengling. It really hurts to write this, but my most central feeling about Ken is that he loved life. He loved learning, loved ideas, loved nature, loved music, loved people. We were always listening to music together. I remember how pleased he was to have come up with a copy of Van's original recording of Brown Eyed Girl. Puzzling through the time signatures of King Crimson in his room. The floodgates that Kind of Blue opened. The trends of the Dead on the Hampton Beach bootlegs. His huge friend from high school materializing at midnight to play guitar 'til dawn, taking on the voice and persona of ancient bluesmen. Also, Ken caught my new girlfriend pulling out the speaker wires in his room sophomore year. It seems he had left the bootleg going when he went to class, and she was trying to take a nap. She couldn't find the switch, so she was pulling at wires when he came back. He gave me a hard time about that one. (Laura and I are still together, anyway...)
Ten years ago, Luke and I were looking into planting a weeping willow on the banks of the Crum on campus. It turned out that the Arboretum people wouldn't allow a willow to go in that area. But we do need to get one somewhere on campus. (Perhaps we need to try some guerrilla planting!)
This is a little out there, but I want to tell you about a dream I have once a year or so. I had a friend from high school, Tim, who was a defensive end of similar size, directness, and good-heartedness as Ken. His life ended a half year after Ken's. In my dream, Tim and Ken are across a field hanging out, soaking up the sun, and I am a good distance away, with other friends. In my dream, I always am drawn to run over and greet them, but I hold myself back. The underlying feeling is, if I acknowledge their existence, they will vanish from that beautiful scene. So I just hang back, and bask in a melancholic understanding of what good souls they were, and are.
Again, thank you and bless you.
He is missed very, very much.
Friday, October 31, 2008
When the tragedy of Ken's decision struck my family, I was in my second month of college as a music and English major. And even though I was asked to see our college psychologist when I returned to school, my real therapy was in the basement of the music department's chapel in the practice rooms. I had my favorite room with my favorite piano and would play whatever I wanted without anyone's judgements. And a song about Ken just happened. I didn't do it on purpose; it really just evolved. I think part of me needed to play it to feel as if I were close to him in some way. I didn't make the connection then, but I had a lot of trouble performing solos after Ken's passing. Looking back, music was my thing -- the one thing that Ken didn't do better. I really believed he was more talented, more intelligent, more popular, more everything than me. I don't even say that in a negative way; it just was a fact. Secretly, I think that may have given me confidence in my musicality. I knew I excelled in academics, but I would never be as scholarly as Ken; I had a lot of wonderful friends, but I would never be the life of the party as Ken was; but I pursued music and found myself a field that Ken hadn't conquered yet. And while in one breath he would call me a band nerd, he would also tell me how good he thought I was on rare occasions.
But my confidence in every area was shot after we lost Ken. The very first solo I had in college only weeks after Ken's death was a nightmare that I replayed in my mind many times after. It was our chamber choir performance -- a select choir whose membership was by audition only and who received music fellowships for their inclusion in the group. I had auditioned for this solo and was chosen out of all of the girls, even though I was a freshman and this was my first concert. So you can imagine how mortified I was when I walked up to the front of the stage to sing my solo and completely forgot all of the words. That had never happened to me in all of my years of recitals, concerts, and solos. I had certainly been terribly nervous before, flubbed a note or two, or had shaky vocals, but forget my words?!? Ridiculous. I had several inconsistent performances after that, too. So, when it came time to perform my senior voice recital three years later and I told my voice teacher that I wanted to perform an original song, I understood her immediate hesitation. She was a wonderful woman who believed in my abilities and talents, but she also knew my story. Many people at college had gotten to know me freshman year as "that girl whose brother killed himself." I think when I sang, part of me wanted to prove to those people that I was a strong person who could forge through this pain and I would show them. But as my previous solos had proven, sometimes I passed my own test; sometimes I didn't. My voice teacher was concerned when I told her about my song. Understandably, she probably envisioned me stopping mid-verse and sobbing off of the stage. She wanted to hear it, so I played and sang it for her. Just then, my accompanist walked into my lesson. "Oh, Kristin, are you going to sing that in your recital?" she asked while she put down her things and plopped down at the piano. "No problem," she announced as she began to play every note of my original song perfectly. I was taken aback. "How do you know that song?!?" I asked, stunned but smiling. "Are you kidding?" she responded. "You have been playing this piece for the past four years. Didn't you ever hear me playing it along with you in my practice room?" So much for soundproofing. She later explained that she knew it meant something special to me, and she thought it was so pretty that she learned it after I had left one night. So much for my complex songwriting abilities.
Anyway, that moment, it became clear to all of us that I had no choice but to perform this song that I had written for my brother in my senior recital. A senior recital is the final test of a music major, and I was singing some very challenging pieces. But I needed to prove I could do this song. I needed to sing it in front of my parents, grandparents, professors, longtime friends, and college roommates. And most of all, I needed to sing it for Ken.
If you'd like to hear me sing (and play) the song for yourself, click here (in the middle of the screen, find the song "Now" under "Songs;" then click the "Play Song Now" arrow). I will leave you with the lyrics to the song from an eighteen-year-old naive girl who desperately missed her big brother and had to express it through her simplistic song, the twenty-one-year-old who performed it from the depths of her heart to all her loved ones including her brother at her senior recital without faltering, and the thirty-eight-year-old who would give anything to never hear this song again and hear her brother's boisterous laughter instead. After twenty years, that would most certainly be the best music of all to my ears.
When we were young
We needed little more
Didn't care what life
Was really for
Never thought we
Would ever be apart
Never thought then
That you would break
This little girl's heart
But now I know that
Life just isn't fair
We wait too long to
Show how much we care
What would I give
To end this circumstance
I'd give my life if
I could give you a second chance
Now when I see sky
I see your face
Although they say you're
In a better place
There's somewhere here
Where you will still remain
In my heart you'll stay
And that will never ever change
How could you be so wrong
Can I go on
Without your love right by my side
I don't know how I will survive
Will I get through this
How could you do this to me now
Could you do this to me
© 1988, Kristin Spengler
Thursday, September 25, 2008
You already know some of the songs that remind me of Ken; several of them are on the sidebar and they play each time you visit this site. But there are so very many more that sometimes catch me off guard. Sometimes I cry when I hear them; sometimes I smile. Some of them were private jokes between the two of us. Some were songs he would play on his record player ad nauseum so loudly that I couldn't hear my own music (on purpose, no doubt). But I started thinking that so many friends who wrote their memories of Ken referenced music. And that, of course, led me to wonder...
What songs remind you of my brother, Ken?
I would love to know! To participate, simply click on the link below that says a number and "comments." Then, type your comments in the box. If you have a Google or Blogger account, you can enter that information; if you click "Open ID" you will have some other account choices such as AIM, but all of you can simply click "Name/URL" and enter your name (the URL is not required). If you want, you can also click "Anonymous" and then sign your name at the end of your comment. Then, just click "Publish Your Comment." It's a lot easier than it looks....I promise!
So, please let me know what songs remind you of Ken, and it would be great if you could also tell why it reminds you of him. I can't wait to see your responses!
Ken was one of the first people I met at Swarthmore. He lived right across the hall from me in Willets our freshman year, and right below me in Worth for the beginning of junior year. He was a supportive, caring friend who was always there to listen to whatever crazy drama I had going on at the time, and never seemed to judge me for any of it. It always made me felt better to see him in the hall or at a party. Just knowing he was there made me smile. And Swarthmore was never the same without him.
Thanks for helping us remember.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
She doesn't know that I grieved for Ken.
Ken was Kristin's older brother to me. I spent many hours at the Spengler home on Kesselring Avenue, living just up the street on Alder Road myself, and Ken was always in and out with his friends. He would make a teasing remark, like brothers do, and be on his way. Sometimes as Kristin and I would head up to her room I could hear Ken and his friends in his room down the hall, door closed and KISS records blasting away. Kristin would try and drown it out with our love for Shaun Cassidy or Journey on her own record player.
But what I will remember most about Ken was his voice and his laugh. I can still hear it now.
One afternoon, Kristin and I were in the den watching tv, on the Spengler's tv that you had to use pliers to turn the channel because the knob was missing. Ken was on the couch behind us. Whether we were watching an MTV video or Ken just wanted to annoy us, I don't quite recall, but he began to sing "Roxanne" by the Police.....as loudly as he possibly could. The repeated lines of "ROOOOOXANNE, you don't have to turn on the red light" was screeched sarcastically. And it only became more and more obnoxious as Kristin would tell him to stop. Then, Ken would laugh. A bellowing laugh that only Ken could make, loud and forced, like the song he was butchering for our benefit. As Kristin would scream his name, he would just relax, stretching himself across the couch as if he had no intention of stopping this personal entertainment.
When I hear that song on the radio, Kristin doesn't know this, but I cry.
And if I am totally alone, I scream the words to the song loudly enough that maybe Ken can hear me in heaven.
We miss you, Ken. I am sorry that I wasn't there to say goodbye.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
I was walking to a class with a friend, schedule and map in hand, terrified that some bully upperclassman would demand that I buy an elevator key from them, or worse, make me smoke in the bathroom. Ken came bounding through the hallway with a bunch of guys, all in their varsity football jerseys. "Hey Cathy! Great to see you!" he said. I squeaked out a "hello" as they all continued down the hallway. "Who was THAT?" my companion asked. "Oh, that's just Kristin's brother," I nonchalantly said. But my head was going a million miles a minute. Ken Spengler knows me! I know Ken Spengler! This is going to be MY year! That thought stayed with me through the entire day and most of the week . . . whenever something went wrong, I thought, "It's OK, I know Ken Spengler!" Sometimes I feel like him saying hello to me that day was kind of turning point in teenage confidence for me. I really wish he knew that simple thing he did has stayed with me for 25 years.
About ten years ago, Jerry Goubeaux and I attempted to visit your brother's grave down in Delaware. We packed up the Jeep and began our road trip to our dear friend. We essentially spent the whole day driving looking for the place, and neither of us could remember where it was located. We went to two cemeteries in the area, and I couldn't even tell you which ones, but it was a good day. As we drove around aimlessly, I kept thinking of how your brother was looking at us laughing at us and calling us morons. It didn't matter, though, 'cause I also know he knew how much he meant to us, and in looking at your blog, he must of thought this was a classic Monty Python moment: Stupid, hilarious, but with good intent. He's probably laughing now...Do you hear him??? :-)
Thanks for doing this.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
One of my fondest memories of Ken was from the night he showed up in my dorm room and grabbed me for a race around the campus in the golf cart he was using to ferry an injured football teammate around after the teammate badly broke his leg. I had been goading Ken (in a half-joking way) for a week to let me ride with him and do donuts on Parrish lawn. He always smiled and laughed in a good-natured way that made it clear that he thought I was being funny but that he wasn't inclined to pull any antics with college property... Until he did show up in the middle of the night when I had a room full of classmates, but the both of us tore out of the room and did donuts on Parrish lawn, laughing like goofballs all the way until he dropped me back at my door.
He had the best way about him.
Then I also remember the picture of you and he as kids that he stuck on his door before he left Swarthmore for the last time. He loved you very much.
Monday, May 12, 2008
We hung out a bit during the couple years we overlapped at Swarthmore and caught several Grateful Dead shows together. I don't know if I'm coloring my memories at all, but I thought we had pretty much the same sense of humor...in any event, I remember laughing a lot when we were around each other. We took a couple road trips to Delaware to hit up parties with his high school buddies, and one of them was the night I'm pretty sure I've laughed the hardest I ever have. I hope I was able to inject as much happiness in his life as he did into mine.
Each Dead show I went to after his death was bittersweet. Several times I thought that I would catch a glimpse of him there. When Jerry Garcia died, part of my sadness at that time came from realizing that my strongest -- and happiest -- link to Ken just broke in some ways.
My world is dimmer for his absence; I can't even imagine what it must be like for you and your family. I wish you all the best, and thanks again.
I'm very touched by your devotion to Ken and to his memory. My thoughts are with you.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
There are some obvious gaps in time, but I hope to update this as I receive new photos and find more of my own.
***To pause any of the frames, roll the mouse over the bottom of the picture; click on the bottom to activate contols, and then click the pause button.
(Special thanks to Sally Tapert Forrest and Stephanie Bok for sending their pictures.)
Fare you well, my honey, fare you well, my only true one.
All the birds that were singing are flown except you alone.
Goin' to leave this brokedown palace,
On my hands and my knees, I will roll, roll, roll.
Make myself a bed by the waterside,
In my time, in my time, I will roll, roll, roll.
In a bed, in a bed, by the waterside, I will lay my head.
Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.
River going to take me, sing me sweet and sleepy,
Sing me sweet and sleepy all the way back home.
It's a far gone lullaby sung many years ago.
Mama, Mama, many worlds I've come since I first left home.
Goin' home, goin' home, by the waterside I will rest my bones,
Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.
Going to plant a weeping willow,
By the bank's green edge it will grow, grow, grow.
Sing a lullaby beside the water,
Lovers come and go, the rivers roll, roll, roll.
Fare you well, fare you well, I love you more than words can tell.
Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul.
(To listen to the song, scroll down the right margin to find the playlist.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
In our house, my bedroom and Ken's bedroom shared a common wall. Sometimes when we were little, we would have to go to bed before we wanted to, and I remember us both taking turns pestering our parents about staying up "just fifteen more minutes." On one occasion when that pestering didn't work, I remember trying to fall asleep and suddenly hearing a "knock, knock" on my bedroom wall. So I knocked back. A few minutes passed, and then I got another knock and I heard a faint giggle. I knocked and giggled back. This continued on until one of us finally fell asleep (or one of our parents yelled at us to knock it off). In fact, it became a sort of ritual between us. I don't remember how long this bedroom routine lasted, but it always made me smile when I got a knock. Many years later, long after those giggly childhood days, we were both teenagers, and there was some sort of tension between us. I was in rolling around in bed, and the next thing I knew, there was a knock on my wall. So I knocked back. The next morning, even though we both knew that was Ken's way of extending the olive branch, I pursued the topic and feigned my annoyance to him, asking, "Why did you knock on my wall last night?" And he replied out of his crooked smile, "I was just making sure you were still there."
I have always been a sleeper. I can fall asleep pretty much anytime, anywhere in seconds flat. And I enjoy sleeping. But there was a time when I hated to sleep. I was a freshman in college when Ken took his life, and I didn't have many confidantes there yet since I had only been a college student for two months. I don't remember whether it was my parents' idea or the college's (or a combination of both), but I was told I had to see our college psychologist once a week after Ken's passing. I completely resented this, and I made it known to the psychologist that I would attend my appointments as I was told, but I would not talk to a stranger about something so tragic and personal. He said that was fine, and for the most part, I would go to his office with books in hand, and we both used the appointments as time to get our work done.
But then I started to hate sleeping. I begged my college rommate to stay awake. I called friends, went into the hall of my dorm, wrote letters, listened to the radio, did anything so that I could put off having to sleep. One day, at my weekly appointment, the psychologist asked me why I looked so tired. I knew better, but I told him the truth. "I am having trouble sleeping." He saw his window of opportunity and pounced. "Why can't you sleep?" he asked. "I can sleep," I corrected him. "I just don't want to sleep." Then I just remember breaking down. I guess I needed to tell someone, especially someone who could add his expert opinion. Through my tears, I told him of our childhood ritual. And then I told him how, every single night when I fell asleep, I would hear a knock in my dreams. When I looked up, it was Ken. We would hug and cry, and he always said he was sorry and promised me he would never take his life again and that he would always be here with me. And then I would wake up, and part of me thought my dream was real. So I would have to relive it all; the recognition that my dream was not reality was just too much to bear day after day. I tried to make it stop. I tried to think of other things before falling asleep. I tried to eat weird things before going to bed. I tried praying to God to stop this torture. Nothing worked. When I finished my admission, after a long pause, I asked the psychologist why he thought my dream continued night after night. When I looked up at him, I saw that his eyes were welling up. "Honestly?" he said, "I think your brother is desperately trying to tell you how sorry he is." I don't know if he only said that because that's what I needed to hear, but I believed him. And once I believed him, going to sleep became a bit less scary. Ken still appeared in my dreams, and often still does, but instead of viewing the dream as cruel, I tried to think of it as a deliberate visit from Ken's spirit.
I had a dream about Ken the night before I had the idea to begin this blog this past December. I welcome those dreams now as any connection to him is one that I cherish. When I realized that 2008 would mark the twentieth anniversary of his death, I wanted to do something to honor my brother's memory. Probably the main concern of anyone who has lost a loved one is that they want his legacy to live on in the memories of others, and I have often wondered if people still think of him. I am humbled by the kind responses I received about this idea, and I am so grateful that Ken had so many caring friends who are interested in this project. Please feel free to share your memories either by emailing me at the link to the right or by commenting on any of the posts on this page. I will try to update this site regularly, so scroll down when you visit to view the new posts.
And to Ken ... Knock, Knock. I'm still here, and I always will be.
To my knowledge, there is only one video of Ken that exists. Our family never owned a camcorder or even one of those huge home video movie projectors. The only video we have is from a video project that Ken and some of his high school friends made for Mr. Walters' senior P.O.D. class in 1986. This is a commercial-spoof from that video that includes Ken, Scott Wilson, Alex Heist, Roger Johnson, Damien Evans, and Bobby Zaragoza (as Mr. Walters). While the video pokes fun at Mr. Walters, I know that Ken respected him beyond measure. Ken's fake laughter in this clip is even funnier than his typical booming laugh that we all knew so well.
Turning the calendar over to October year after year has never gotten any easier. I often wonder if it would be less ominous if Ken's death had not occured on Halloween. The anniversary of anyone's death is difficult, yet every year, when the leaves begin to turn, I am met with an increasing supply of ghosts, skeletons, and dead creatures seemingly reminding me of the day that is quickly approaching.
Having children forced me to change the way I viewed Halloween. I try to focus on them and their excitement. I still have trouble, but in trying to be a good mommy to my boys, I resolve to keep a stiff upper lip, at least until they are fast asleep.
One of the lines of this song that gets me every time is: "I should be over it now, I know." I have always despised the flippant cliche', "get over it." What a useless piece of "advice." It is an insensitive and ignorant thing to say, which is why I will probably always remember when someone asked a friend of mine, who was consoling me at the time, "Isn't she over it yet?" in reference to Ken's death. No, I'm not "over it." I wasn't then, and I doubt I ever will be. To me, being "over it" would mean forgetting the tragedy of his decision and the massive potential he had in this world. To me, being "over it" would be a disservice to his soul. But sometimes I do chastise myself for getting misty at a memory at an inopportune time with similar words, and I have to remember that it's okay not to be "over it," no matter how old I grow.
When October Goes
And when October goes
The snow begins to fly
Above the smokey roofs
I watch the planes go by
The children running home
Beneath a twilight sky
Oh, for the fun of them
When I was one of them
And when October goes
The same old dream appears
And you are in my arms
To share the happy years
I turn my head away
To hide the helpless tears
Oh, how I hate to see October go
I should be over it now, I know
It doesn't matter much
How old I grow
I hate to see October go
*The music on this site begins automatically; it can be stopped by clicking the pause button.
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It’s OK to say OLÉ!!
Growing up in Mayfair was idyllic ~ Big Wheel races, bike ramps, swingsets, football and baseball, playing kick the can, cowboys and Indians and ghost in the graveyard. There were snow forts and sledding and snowball fights across Kesselring Avenue. What a great neighborhood! We grew up together, the backyard neighbors and across-the-street neighbors (Scotts, Bethels, Barletts, Welches, Spenglers and Ladishes). Their parents were our surrogate parents; their siblings, our siblings. We “let” others in of course; the whole Crossgates and Mayfair was our playground, with friends from all over it .When I think back to all the games we played, I picture Ken there, laughing and being a leader amongst us. There’s no way to remember my childhood without remembering the Mayfair crew.
In junior high and high school we ran in different circles, branching out into other friendships, but we always shared that common beginning and, I believe, a special affection for each other. Kristin and I continued to be “best friends” despite hardly ever hanging out! We had our different directions and different groups, but we always kept in touch.
The summer after I graduated from high school I shared a beach house in Rehoboth with some friends. I was walking down Wilmington Avenue from the boardwalk heading back to my house when I hear a booming, friendly voice say “Missy?” Lo and behold it was Ken! He was working at Irish Eyes and had just happened to step outside as I was strolling by. Funny that it was close to the end of the summer and he worked a block from my house, but we had never run into each other! What a small world! We talked for a while and got caught up. Ken and I ended up hanging out a few times. (I’m not sure I ever told you this, Kristin, but )….One night while we were hanging out…Ken and I kissed. It was a really nice kiss, but we both agreed that it was a little weird as well! Since Kristin was practically my sister, that made Ken practically my brother! No hard feelings; we hung out another time or two, but it was time for the summer to end and for Ken to head back to Swarthmore and me to start at U of D.
I remember going home for Caesar Rodney’s Homecoming weekend that year. Did the whole parade and game thing, running into old friends. The biggest thing that happened to me that weekend though, was that I was in a car accident – rear ended by some guy in front of Delaware State.
Or at least I thought that was the biggest thing. Little did I know the pain of sore ribs, a concussion and whiplash would be dwarfed by the mental anguish and heartbreak I felt when I heard the news.
Mom called me that Monday at school to tell me about Ken. How could someone so alive, who lived life to the fullest, not be? My heart ached for him, for what he must have been going through. The hell his parents must be in, dealing with the death of a child. And especially for Kristin. My oldest friend. Ken’s little sister. She’d always looked up to him and now he was gone. What do you say to that? How do you even begin?
Mrs. Bethel drove up to U of D to pick up Steve and me, to bring us home for Ken’s funeral. That was one of the quietest car rides I’d ever experienced, everyone lost in their thoughts and memories. The funeral was surreal. There were literally busloads of people there – all people who loved Ken in their own way – whose lives he had touched. I wish he knew how many people cared so much about him. Maybe it would have made a difference.
I’m saddened by the loss of someone who was such a presence. I’ve also been angry at times, for I feel he robbed people of what their futures should have been and altered them permanently. The anger is fleeting - I think of that winning smile and sense of humor and I know that he wouldn’t have hurt others on purpose. The pain he must have been feeling had to have been overwhelming and then my heart aches for him. I’ve felt his presence on numerous occasions and I know he still shares in this world somehow, watching over, and I know I’ll see him again some day.
When I think about Ken now, I picture the grinning face from birthday party snapshots and childhood pictures – he’s forever young in my mind, like back in the carefree days of Mayfair.
Ken and I became good friends through the years. He was a good listener, funny, sensitive, curious, popular, smart and witty. I also think he was a risk-taker and had a restless side. Some of us recall “The Spot” and many impromptu parties—there and SO many other places. Bob Z. and I visited Ken at Swarthmore one time; he showed us that lower-Delaware hospitality. We saw him play in a football game and went to a dance.
Ken was absolutely one of a kind, and we miss him!!!
Thank you, Kristin, for your very special project to bring our memories together all these years later. Your big brother is very proud of you.
Ken always impressed me with his ability to work hard and play hard. I remember how Ken had the ability to weave himself seamlessly between the “jocks" and the "TAG” group.
Our friendship continued into college and those summers at the beach were some of the most memorable moments of my life. Over the years, his name has come up fondly in conversations, and "Brokedown Palace" will always hold a special place in my heart every time I hear it.
Saturday, February 2, 2008
I still carry two pictures of Ken in my wallet. In one he is wearing his Caesar Rodney football uniform; in the other he is wearing a suit for his senior picture. Both photographs capture an image of Ken that I hold in my heart.
Part of his humor, I think, was the way he was able to see through some of the absurdities of life that confront us every day. I'll never forget when all of the students in Betty Miller's honors class were instructed to write a valedictorian speech (an assignment chosen not by Mrs. Miller but by Dr. Rita Ryan). It was a ridiculous assignment since everyone already knew who the valedictorian was going to be. Many in the class wrote subtle sarcastic essays, and Ken's was certainly one of the most humorous. He was able to read it aloud in a way that was droll and insightful at the same time.
Ken was also such a loving, giving person. He had friends from many different groups of people in school. His teachers loved him, as did his peers. There was so much to love.
I still miss Ken. There is a rare day that goes by that I do not think of him in some way -- always with joy laced with sadness. I like to take his pictures out of my wallet from time to time just to gaze at them with love and nostalgia.
Ahh, Latin class...who could forget the relentless torture we put poor Mrs. Scarborough through for three years (although we did apply the same techniques to Mrs. Richards in our senior year, it never had quite the same effect). It was during this time that I really got to know Ken...and his incredibly twisted sense of humor. Our own language began to evolve, where terms and phrases like "cheese", "wheat", "cheese-wheat" and "Ish-tan-BUHL!!!" somehow had special meaning to us (only those who were there will likely understand all this). Not to mention the near-revolutionary "¡Olé!" debacle, which actually materialized right between Ken and myself at the cafeteria lunch table. Somewhere I still have a clipping of the Delaware State News report about the incident.
In the Spring of 2001, I took a brief tour of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania while looking for a particular music store. I was immediately awestruck by the absolute beauty of the college campus...and then thought to myself how happy Ken should have been there as a student. It deeply saddens me to this day that I didn't get to know Ken as well as I would have liked. While I eventually lost touch with most of my high school friends, I'm sure I would have kept up with Ken...there were so many layers to his persona, and such incredible potential in him to do great things; I figured we had an entire lifetime ahead of us to develop a great friendship. After twenty years, my grief has not diminished.
Ken has never once left my thoughts...in fact, I was thinking about him right before I received Kristin's e-mail about this very website. Thank you, Kristin, for bringing us all together to celebrate your Brother's life in this very special way.
We miss you, Ken...more than you ever could have known. God rest you, my Friend.
I first met Ken in 5th grade at W. Reily Brown Elementary. I had just moved to Delaware the year before and still felt somewhat new. I'm not sure how it is today, but back then, they separated the boys and the girls for the "health talks." Ken approached me to make a deal. He said he would let me see the "boy handouts" if I would show him the "girl handouts," and if I agreed, he would let me cheat off one of his tests. I'm not sure why I remember this, maybe because it was the beginning of many confidences we'd share in the future. Ken was such a great person, and I was fortunate enough to be in many classes with him through the years. I think he enjoyed being my personal "Dear Abby" at times, and he was always a good listener --never judgmental. I still think of him often, and he appears in my dreams a few times a year. I always thought he'd end up being President one day - Lord knows, we could sure use someone like him now.
I first met Ken on a bus trip in 6th grade with the TAG class (or as Ken liked to call it, "FAG" class). He was hanging out with Todd Cleek at the time, and I remember thinking that no two people could be more annoying, but our friendship blossomed in high school, where we spent four years together in the same homeroom & had many classes together.
Probably my best memory of Ken is 9th grade Personal Typing Class. I sat right by he and John Chabbott. We drove Ms. Brackett nuts with our constant comments & jokes. We had a heck of a time in there trying to learn to type on those old school typewriters! The brand names on them were "Silver Reed" and "Olivetti". Now I don't recall exactly who was who, but John & Ken dubbed themselves Mr. Silver Reed & Mr. Olivetti and made such weird voices that the three of us could barely get through those timed typing tests, which were daily! I would leave that class in tears with makeup smeared from laughing so hard!
I also remember our English Honors Classes in both 11th & 12th grade, when he & many others would make fun of Mr. Grace & "Mzzzz. Miller" -- he & Damian Evans mostly, with their recitation of Monty Python & "spam!" They would go on & on & drive all of us bit nuts, but they were so funny together. I also remember Honors P.O.D. with good 'ole Mr. Walters or "Jack", as he was fondly called by Ken & others.
During our senior year in what they had just dubbed a "mid-winter break" in Feb. 1986, Ken, Stuart Townsend, Sally Tapert, Deanna Hengst and I all went with Chris Ulp(in two separate cars) to his mother's beach trailer in Rehoboth. It was in a little park right after you cross the little bridge entering Rehoboth, & it was closed for the winter, so we thought it would be a brilliant idea to pick up some liquor & drive down there & hang out for the day. Needless to say, we had an adventure. On the way, Stuart got pulled over for speeding & we were trying to hide the liquor in the back seat. Once we got to the trailer & had a few, the 3 boys took off for snacks & the 3 girls (lacking in common sense & then intoxicated) had the police come collect us after a neighbor reported us for urinating in public outside the trailer, which at the time did not have working pipes! Ken managed to escape all of that, but the 3 of us got picked up by our parents at the Rehoboth police station! I actually had a slight crush on Ken at that point in time, which few people knew, and I was looking forward to spending the day with him. Needless to say, things did not work out as planned! Anyway, I realized shortly thereafter that he and I were just always meant to be good friends, and I treasured that friendship.
Ken was an intelligent, creative, extremely funny person, who was also a mystery in many ways. I will always miss him.
BIG WHEEL DAYS
In 1974, in our new home on Kesselring Avenue (two doors down from the Spengler's), we were awakened on our first Saturday morning by the rumble of many big wheels speeding past our house. We later learned that the cute "big" kid leading the pack was Ken. The big wheels rumble soon became music to our ears as we watched all the neighborhood little boys race by our front door.
KEN, THE BABYSITTER
Once after an outing with the Spengler Family, one of our girls (Beth or Julie) asked if Ken could babysit. After talking to Ken and his mom, we all agreed. He proved to be one of our best babysitters. We always had a reminder that Ken had been at our house the next day when we turned on the stereo -- it was always turned up to the highest volume, with lots of bass. Ken always had wonderful manners, a kind and gentle heart, and a glint in his eyes. We miss him...
It wasn't a summer without the frequent outdoor games. We enjoyed many a balmy summer's eve playing "kick the can", and afternoons playing "kickball". I remember in particular an afternoon "game" of "BIG FOOT" (gonna get ya, complete with the 45” of the song playing on a creaky old record player in the background for effect). Ken was BIG FOOT and scared the you-know-what out of all of us! Ken was always the oldest kid in the bunch -- definitely the Alpha male/ring leader, but always nice. I remember playing Atari (or watching the older guys) play "Asteroid" and "Pac-Man." On a softer note, I recall Ken's utter concern for my little sister, Julie, when he saw her all wrapped up in ACE bandages (her childhood obsession). We told Ken that she had broken bones, and a look of sheer angst took over his kind face!
Later, I remember Ken working at the beach, and for "Mayflower" moving company. I remember his awesome senior year photo, and college football pic. I remember his giggle, and award-winning smile (both of which shine through Kristin). At least once a year, Ken appears randomly in my dreams -- as if he's just dropping by for a visit to say hi.